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Weather for the birds: Christmas bird count higher than expected

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WILLMAR -- Binoculars in hand, some 35 birding enthusiasts in the Willmar area took to field and woods for the 43rd annual Christmas bird count in the Willmar area.

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Despite the early cold and snow, those braving the elements found more birds than they anticipated, reported coordinator Randy Frederickson in a report to the participants.

The volunteers tallied 45 species representing 3,971 individual birds.

Perhaps indicative of winter's early arrival, they found more dark-eyed juncos than any other species of bird with a count of 633.

The weather almost certainly is the reason that this year's group found only one single waterfowl, a mallard. The volunteers had not done so poorly on waterfowl in recent history, Frederickson noted. There was not so much as a goose to be found on the few open water spots remaining at the time of the count.

This year's cold weather also served to concentrate both pheasants and wild turkeys. The volunteers counted 396 pheasants and 98 wild turkeys.

They also did well on raptors, finding all 10 expected species of hawks, falcons, eagles, and owls. There was also a surprise: A red-shouldered hawk was observed, according to the report.

The volunteers only spotted two pine siskins, and they did not spot any redpolls.

The eastern screech owl continued to be an elusive creature on count day. Two of the birds were seen one week before the count, but as happened in many previous years, none could be observed on the day of the count.

The local group participated in a National Audubon Society event that began in 1900. The early-winter bird census provides a "snapshot'' of bird populations in an area over time. The volunteers attempt to tally all of the birds within a 15-mile radius on the day of the count. Some take to the field. Others keep track of the birds at their feeders from the comfort of their homes.

The volunteers join for a lunch and coffee at Prairie Woods Environmental Learning Center where they tally up the day's observations.

Frederickson extended his thanks to all of the volunteers for their help. This year's count was benefited by the help of seven first time volunteers, he added.

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